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Published: Monday, 10/20/2003

Toledo cautious about particulate forecasts

BY TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Daily forecasts for Toledo's particulate matter eventually could be a click away.

But don't hold your breath. Though Toledo has warmed up to the idea of joining 100 other major metropolitan areas by putting out such information on the Internet, the city has made no firm commitment or announced a timetable.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently expanded the Air Quality Index on its Web site by including daily forecasts for sooty particulate matter as well as smog-forming ozone. The information can be accessed at www.epa.gov/airnow.

For example, Dayton residents could have seen late last week that there was no real problem with ozone in their city but that they still should have taken it easy if they are unusually sensitive to air pollution. That's because there was a moderate problem with particles.

Cleveland and Akron residents could have seen that particle-based pollution was even worse in their communities.

Toledoans had no clue.

Karen Granata, Toledo environmental services air resources chief, said the city plans eventually to do such forecasting, much like it does when it warns residents about the potential for heavy smog with its Ozone Action Days. But for an unspecified time, the city plans to see how good other communities get with their forecasting for particulate matter, she said.

“We're going to look at their experience and their accuracy before we start predicting here,” she said.

Ozone and particulate matters are two of the six primary sources of air pollution that the U.S. EPA regulates under the federal Clean Air Act. The four other so-called “criteria pollutants” - sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, lead, and nitrogen dioxide - are not as easy to predict, officials have said.

The U.S. EPA has come under attack almost daily by environmentalists since President Bush took office and vowed to roll back regulations he saw as excessive burdens on industry. But anything that promotes the public's understanding of air pollution, such as particulate matter forecasting on the Internet, has been embraced by groups including the American Lung Association of Ohio.

Molly Fontana, state lung association spokesman, said the daily forecasts are “another tool for us to get that education piece out to the public.”

She said it gives the public a way to monitor the quality of air when it's poor, thereby helping Americans with asthma and other respiratory problems have an easier time coping with air pollution. Vulnerable groups include young children, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems, she said.

The U.S. EPA's Air Quality Index is a color-coded air pollution rating system. It is used for weather reports by meteorologists in nearly 300 cities, especially during summer months when smog peaks. Unlike ozone, though, particle pollution can vary throughout the year, the agency said.

Particulate matter runs the gamut from soot to a mixture of smoky, microscopic solids to liquid droplets. Particles can be emitted directly from sources such as automobiles, industries, power plants or fires. Or, they can be formed when gases react in the atmosphere.

Some of the finest particles can get deep into lungs, affecting the lungs and the heart.



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